Internet Press Conference with Cory Welt

Dr.Cory Welt
Associate Research Professor at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, Adjunct Fellow at the Center for American Progress

Joint Internet press conferences with leading experts from different countries on the topical issues of the modern times are organized within the framework of the project, entitled "Enhancing knowledge and understanding of ‘the other side’ by Armenians and Azerbaijani through Alternative and First-Hand Information". This project, implemented by Region Research Center (Armenia) and the Institute for Peace and Democracy (Azerbaijan), is supported by the British Embassies in Armenia and Azerbaijan.

David Stepanyan, "Arminfo" news agency-www.arminfo.am (Armenia)

1. There is an opinion that Vladimir Putin's visit to Azerbaijan was a hint to Armenia, to make official Yerevan realize the "advantages of joining the Customs Union." Can we state after the outcome of the Putin - Sargsyan meeting that the hint was well-understood by Armenia. What role did the "Karabakh trump card" play in this decision?  

-Of course, it would be good to know exactly what Putin said to Sargsyan in that room – and -how he said it – but the Russian president must have surely laid out Armenia’s choices quite clearly. It does seem that he alluded to the possibility that Armenia (and/or Nagorno-Karabakh) might not be able to rely on Russia for security if Armenia refuses to join the Customs Union. Sargsyan himself hinted at this when he said that it is “impossible and ineffective” to be a member of a military alliance and not a “corresponding economic space.” Of course, this statement is nonsense – just look westward, where NATO and the EU are not entirely overlapping organizations. But in the case of the CSTO and the Customs Union, this statement is probably valid. The question is why it took Russia so long to throw down the gauntlet. Putin was probably sure that Armenians understood the price of Russian security and was surprised to see them continuing to move toward the AA/DCFTA.

2. Does the upcoming membership of Armenia to the Customs Union mean the automatic maintenance of the status quo in the Karabakh conflict for many years, taking into consideration the reinforcement of balance between the forces of the parties of the Karabakh conflict and bearing in mind that Moscow is compensating its multi-billion contracts with Azerbaijan on the sales of arms by privilieged supplies to Armenia. How successful is this policy of the Kremlin that allows the Russian Federation to continue manipulations with the Karabakh resolution to make this conflict serve its own purposes?      

-Armenia’s membership in the Customs Union will probably add another level of protection in the event of a flareup of conflict with Azerbaijan. There will be even greater pressure in -Moscow to actively take Armenia’s side. Because of this, membership will likely make Azerbaijan more wary of using force for fear of a Russian response. But in general, it is probably correct to say that Armenia’s membership also won’t do anything to encourage Russia to look more actively for a political solution. I don’t think its that the status quo is so much in Russia’s interest, just that the status quo doesn’t harm Russia’s interests either, so why would the Kremlin risk change?

3. Regardless of Armenia's readiness to join the Customs Union, no one has cancelled the Association Agreement with the EU. Does the Euro-Atlantic community have leverage to use the resolution of the Karabakh conflict as an instrument to put pressure on Yerevan in the course of the Vilnius "Eastern Partnership" Summit?

-First of all, the EU does not care enough to pressure Yerevan to sign. The Association Agreement/DCFTA is supposed to benefit Armenia, not the EU. The EU might be disappointed, and perhaps somewhat annoyed, particularly given the amount of effort that has gone into negotiations. But it has no incentive to pressure Yerevan to change its mind. If Armenia prefers to join the Customs Union, the EU doesn’t really care. As for leverage, no, what could the EU possibly offer on Karabakh that it hasn’t done already?

4. Iran has warned many times that in case of external intervention into the Syrian conflict, it will take retaliatory measures. Won't the decision made by Obama on bombardments in Syria lead to a large-scale regional war? And how will it affect South Caucasus?

-The situation surrounding Syria is still in flux. It is not even clear that the United States will launch limited military strikes against Syria. If it did, I don’t believe that Iran would respond in any significant fashion. Insofar as the Caucasus is “in the neighborhood,” it might feel some threat from a possible military operation against Syria, but I think this threat is remote. In any case, Armenians, in particular, have already felt this conflict, given Syria’s own Armenian population.

Artak Barseghyan, Public Radio of Armenia-www.armradio.am (Armenia)

1. Do you think that the readiness of Armenia to join the Customs Union could have been Yerevan's response to the pertinancy of Brussels to a number of key issues in the Association Agreement?

-That’s an interesting question. I suppose its conceivable that Sargsyan already decided that he didn’t have the political will to accept certain stringent conditions of the Association Agreement/DCFTA but that he also deemed it imprudent to reject the agreement without cause. In that case, perhaps it was easier to say that “Russia made us do it,” rather than risk offending the EU directly. But I don’t believe this is what happened. In any case, as I said before, the EU doesn’t see this as its “loss” but Armenia’s own.

2. What is the current state of relations between Russia and the EU against the background of the events underway in and around Syria?

Answer -

Gagik Baghdasaryan, NewsArmenia news agency-www.newsarmenia.am (Armenia)

1. How effective would Armenia's affiliation to the zone of free trade with the EU have been? Can Armenia make its way to European markets with its production?

-That’s a good question I’m not able to answer. For better or worse, the Association Agreement/DCFTA is the deal that is on offer. I don’t know why the EU has insisted on this particular format for all countries. Perhaps anything less was considered to be just another round of symbolic – and ultimately meaningless – diplomacy. Whether the terms of the agreement are beneficial to a country is for economic experts to determine and the country itself to decide.

2. Do you expect any retaliatory measures towards Armenia on the part of the West after the decision on joining the Customs Union? Is pressure by Europe possible?

-No, not at all. As I said, I don’t think the EU particularly cares if Armenia ultimately prefers to stay in the Customs Union. Many might think it’s the wrong choice, but its Armenia’s choice to make.

3. Do you think Armenia has an alternative to the military cooperation with Russia? Can the West offer any mechanisms to ensure the security of Armenia?

-In principle, NATO membership is open to Armenia, as it is to Georgia and other post-Soviet states. In practice, Russian opposition to NATO, poor Turkish-Armenian relations, and the Karabakh conflict obviously all make it difficult to view NATO as a realistic alternative. Then again, if Turkish-Armenian relations would improve and the Karabakh conflict was solved, then Armenia wouldn’t need any external mechanisms to ensure its security.

Araks Martirosyan, 1in.am (Armenia)

1. How do you assess Armenia's decision to join CU when Armenia was on the way to initial Association agreement with EU? Was that a free decision from Russia? 

-Please see above.

2. Armenia has security problem, Armenia has Karabakh conflict, why EU didn't suggested a way to solve these questions not to be such dependent from Russia? There are conversations that EU has done very little for Armenia. Do you see EU's mistake in Armenia's decision? Has EU suggested a way to resist Russia's pressures?

-The EU does not see Armenia as a site of geopolitical competition nor does it need Armenia to sign an AA/DCFTA. Please see above.

3. I wonder, Armenian authorities insist that Armenia will initial Association agreement but not DCFTA, because that is not compatible Armenian membership in CU. Without DCFTA  can Association agreement  be signed? Is there a sense? Can we exclude that EU will arrange new modes for Armenia?

-In principle, anything is possible. Clearly, the most substantive element of the agreement is the DCFTA, but I’m sure there are “smaller AAs” that could be concluded. But if the EU was willing to sign a different agreement with Armenia, one wonders why such an agreement wasn’t proposed already. I find it unlikely that the EU will offer such an agreement by itself. If Armenia wishes to propose an alternative, however, I’m sure the EU is ready to listen.

4. Can we say that European perspective of Armenia is closed? Does Armenia have chances? 

-Can Armenia join the EU? Well, that was a long-term venture anyway. But the overall trajectory hasn’t been eliminated. Armenia can change its mind and pursue the AA/DCFTA again at any time. More importantly, a “European” perspective does not have to be tied strictly to the EU. It is also a question of the quality of a country’s political and economic institutions. Armenia does not have to sign an AA/DCFTA to transform its institutions to become more “European.” It can do this at any time.

Tarana Kyazimova, "Turan" news agency-www.contact.az (Azerbaijan)

1. Russia is quite jealous towards EU's deepening cooperation with its "Eastern partners", and in particular, towards the conclusion of agreements on association relations. Will the EU and the West in general be able to protect the Eastern Partnership member-states who will sign the agreements on association relations from the pressures of Russia?

-I don’t believe Russia is playing a long-term game. It is using short-term methods to try and scare certain states (mainly Ukraine and Armenia) from concluding AA/DCFTAs. If it fails, I’m sure Russia would accommodate itself to the new status quo. In the case of these two states, however, I suspect that Russia will get its way. It appears to have done so in Armenia, and I still have my doubts that the Ukrainian government will do everything it needs to do – primarily release Yulia Tymoshenko from prison – to get the Europeans to supports the signing of its agreement.

2. Azerbaijan declares itself self-sufficient and assures of the lack of any necessity to receive any assistance from the EU? What preferences do you think the EU may propose to Azerbaijan to convince Baku to sign the agreement on association?

-As I said about Armenia, this is not a geopolitical game for the EU. The EU does not need the states of the Caucasus or Eastern Europe to sign AA/DCFTAs. The agreements were designed as a response to countries that themselves seek closer relations with Europe. The EU is not interested in trying to convince Baku to sign such an agreement.

3. What is the idea of the West on the structure of the post-Bashar Syria, if we are to consider that the decline of Assad's regime is only a matter of time? Are Washington, London and Paris interested in maintaining the integrity of the Syrian state?

-It would be nice if Western governments had a fully developed sense of what they thought the future of Syria should look like. The simple answer is that they are interested in maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria; beyond that, I think they don’t have much of an idea.

Natig Javadli, "Bizim Yol" newspaper-www.bizimyol.az (Azerbaijan)

1.  Do you think the statements that after Armenia's joining the Customs Union at the proposal of the Kremlin Azerbaijan will be the next to be repressed are substantiated?

-Its hard to say. But for now, the pattern seems to be that Russia is putting the greatest pressure on countries that it considers to be closest to Russiaand thus are “betraying” it to the West with its behavior. You’ll notice that Russia is not putting any visible pressure on Georgia, for instance. It mainly wants to pressure those countries that expect certain benefits from their relationship with Russia. The Kremlin wants to make sure that these countries understand that these benefits are contingent on adhering to a certain foreign policy. Over time, I do not doubt that Russia will seek Azerbaijan’s entry into the Customs Union. But I suspect it would try to do this through carrots more than sticks.

2. If Azerbaijan joins the Customs Union, does this challenge the EU Eastern Partnership Agreement?

-In general? No. For Azerbaijan? It would mean even less engagement in the Eastern Partnership program that it has now.

3. Even though France supported the United States in the Syrian issue, the British Parliament voted against Cameron's proposal. Germany, in its turn, acted just like GB. What may the forecast be in such a situation?

-We see how the situation is unfolding now. There are some efforts to find diplomatic solutions to the conflict. Such efforts only stand a chance, however, if they are backed by a credible threat of force. I’m not very optimistic.

Rashad Rustamov, "Zerkalo" newspaper-www.zerkalo.az (Azerbaijan)

1. This June the European Parliament removed Azerbaijan from the list of countries that need election observation missions. However, as many international observers in Azerbaijan assert, falsifications in the course of the elections are very frequent. What has caused such a mild attitude towards Azerbaijan on the part of the European Parliament?  

-I think the EP has changed its mind: http://www.azernews.az/azerbaijan/59162.html).

2. Azerbaijan is not part of the current EU expansion program. What do in that case extended relations with that organization entail for Azerbaijan?  

-Three specific things, perhaps. First, the EU probably still sees Azerbaijan as a “potentially” European country in a way that states to the east and the south are not. Because of this, it has an interest in Azerbaijani political development. Second, the EU has a specific energy relationship with Azerbaijan that will only grow deeper over time. Finally, Azerbaijan is at the edge of the EU’s security horizon – as Azerbaijan is a point of transit into Europe, the EU retains an interest in its stability and contributions to fighting transnational security threats.

3. Don't you think that after the collapse of the USSR the USA has taken up the role of the "international gendarme," deciding single-handedly which country has violated international laws and deserves punishment. Americans' intrusion into Iraq led to numerous fatalities among the civilian population and led to general impoverishment. Do you think Syria is facing a similar threat?

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/images/cleardot.gif-I think we need to be careful not to draw direct comparisons between different kinds of conflicts. No one in the United States is contemplating a ground invasion of Syria. The operations that are being considered are more like the Bosnia bombing campaign or a more aggressive form of what happened in Libya. This does not mean that they would lead to satisfactory results – fear of failure is the main reason the United States hasn’t acted already.But there is no chance that the United States will occupy Syria.

All rights reserved. © 2012-2014 Public Dialogues